Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Brainwashed: Challenging The Myth of Black Inferiority

Some of you are sending me some excellent links these days for which I am truly grateful. One example is this trio of YouTube videos featuring Sheryl McCarthy of City University of New York interviewing Tom Burrell, author of Brainwashed: Challenging The Myth of Black Inferiority (published by Smiley Books in February). After watching this interview, I, for one, can hardly wait to get the book.

Tom Burrell Interview - Part 1

Tom Burrell Interview - Part 2

Tom Burrell Interview - Part 3
NOTE: Read or listen to National Public Radio's interview of Tom Burrell here. And don't miss Burrell's website, whatever you do!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Long Haul

I'm in something of a funk today. Albert Woodfox still suffers. The little pregnant cat I've been feeding has mysteriously disappeared for more than a week and one of the neighbors said he saw her body on a street somewhere. My knee is aching 24/7 now (despite the glucosamine I take), so I'm walking instead of running for exercise -- reminding me that I'm getting older by the minute. And my to-do list will last a couple of lifetimes, at least.

Still...this little effort of a blog crossed the line of 100,000 hits this week. Admittedly, it took four and one-half years to do it and there are thousands of blogs (at least), I'm sure, that reach more readers than that every day.

But my voice, nonetheless, my tiny candle, flickers yet in the darkness of this present era. And for that, I am grateful for waking up to yet another day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Albert "Shaka" Woodfox Will Remain Locked Down

On Monday, June 21, the US Fifth Circuit Court ruled to overturn a July 2008 decision that ordered that Albert Woodfox's conviction and life sentence be "reversed and vacated." As James Ridgeway and Jean Casella write in their article below, yesterday's decision was "a crushing blow to prisoners' rights."

What's Next for Albert Woodfox of the Angola 3?
by James Ridgeway and Jean Casella

(Published by Mother Jones and Solitary Watch)

Albert Woodfox has spent nearly all of the last 38 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitientiary at Angola. His case has brought protests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, who argue that Woodfox's decades in lockdown constitute torture, and from a growing band of supporters, who believe that he was denied a fair trial. For more than ten years, he has been fighting for his release in the courts. But yesterday, a ruling by a federal appeals court [1] ensured that for the forseeable future, Albert Woodfox will remain right where he has been for the last three decades: in a 6 x 9 cell in the heart of America's largest and most notorious prison.

It's been nearly two years since a federal district court judge in Baton Rouge overturned Woodfox's conviction [2] for the 1972 murder of a guard at Louisiana's Angola prison. Judge James Brady's 2008 ruling, which ordered the state to retry Woodfox or release him, brought new hope to the 63-year-old Woodfox, who has been in Angola-originally for armed robbery-since he was 24. A member of the group known as the Angola 3, Woodfox has always contended that he was effectively framed for the guard's murder-and then thrown into permament lockdown-because of his involvement with the Black Panther Party, which was organizing against conditions in what was then known as the "bloodiest prison in the South."

Without drawing any conclusions about Woodfox's guilt or innocence, Judge Brady of the Federal District Court, Middle District of Louisiana, concluded that Woodfox had not received due process at his 1998 trial (which was intself a replacement for a faulty 1973 trial). The main grounds for overturning Woodfox's conviction were ineffective assistance of counsel, which allowed questionable evidence and irregular practices to stand without challenge. Woodfox had argued that better lawyers could have shown that his conviction was quite literally bought by the state, which based its case on jailhouse informants who were rewarded for their testimony. (Woodfox's case was described in full in this 2009 article for Mother Jones [3].)

Judge Brady agreed, and in July 2008 he granted Woodfox's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ordering that his conviction and life sentence be "reversed and vacated." But some of the most powerful figures in the Lousiana justice system were committed to keeping Woodfox in prison and in lockdown. After his conviction was overturned, Attorney General James "Buddy" Caldwell declared [4], "We will appeal this decision to the 5th Circuit [Court of Appeals]. If the ruling is upheld there I will not stop and we will take this case as high as we have to. I will retry this case myself...I oppose letting him out with every fiber of my being because this is a very dangerous man."

Caldwell put his case before the federal Fifth Circuit in March 2009-and in yesterday's decision, he prevailed. In a 2-1 decision, a panel of three federal appellate judges ruled that Judge Brady had erred in overturning Wallace's conviction. Their decision is not only a crushing blow for Woodfox, but also a manifestation of how far the rights of the accused have fallen in recent decades.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals once had a reputation [5] as one of the finest appellate courts in the land. In the 1960s, a small group of Fifth Circuit judges­ -- mostly Southern-bred moderate Republicans -- ­was known for advancing civil rights and especially school desegregation. But today the Fifth Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Texas, and Mississippi, is seen as among the most ideologically conservative of the federal appeals courts. It is notable for its overburdened docket and for its hostility to appeals from defendants in capital cases, including claims based on faulty prosecution and suppressed evidence. The court has even been reprimanded by the US Supreme Court, itself is no friend to death row inmates: In June 2004, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote that the Fifth Circuit was "paying lip service to principles" of appellate law in handing down death penalty rulings.

In addition, the decision in Woodfox's case shows the crippling effects on prisoners' rights of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) which was passed under Bill Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombings. That legislation has become the bane of anti-death penalty lawyers and activists, and of thousands of other prisoners seeking to challenge their convictions-a pursuit which AEDPA now renders nearly impossible.

As the Fifth Circuit noted in its ruling, "The AEDPA requires that federal courts "defer to a state court's adjudication of a claim" unless the state court decision ran "contrary to...clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court," or was "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." And as the judges pointed out, "An unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect or erroneous application of the law."

In other words, the state courts could be wrong, they just couldn't be so far out as to be undeniably "unreasonable." And in the end, the Fifth Circuit judges agreed with the State's argument that "the district court failed to apply the AEDPA's heightened deferential standard of review to Woodfox's ineffective assistance claims." For Woodfox, this means that his time in prison stretches before him with no foreseeable end in sight. His lawyers have promised to return to his case with new evidence, but that could take years, and the outcome might still be the same. In the meantime, Woodfox and fellow Angola 3 members Herman Wallace and Robert King have mounted a constitutional challenge to their solitary confinement [6], which may come to trial before the end of this year. That case, too, will eventually go before the Fifth Circuit-and even a win would mean only a release from permanent lockdown, not from Angola.

This post also appears at James Ridgeway's personal blog, Solitary Watch[7].
Source URL: http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/06/albert-woodfox-angola-3


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Rock Me Baby -- All Night Long

It would seem somehow irresponsible to write two posts in a row about luuuuuuv and not post a video giving honor to the tradition of songs about the topic. So here's Etta James telling her baby to rock her all night long. And if you thought we get too old for that one day, then pay attention, kiddies, 'cause she'll school you right. Fo' sho'.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What's Love Got To Do With It? - Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote about why I don't advise Black people not to get romantically involved with White people (aside from the fact that, of course, that it's none of my business what somebody else does with their heart...or their genitals). Today, I want to write about some of the reasons I think Black and White people DO get romantically involved. And it's complicated stuff. So I'm not suggesting that this post is going to constitute the last word on the subject. I just want to present a couple of the ideas I've been mulling over for the past few months, since I got personally involved with a Black man. Again.

Before I get started, however, I want to give you a bit of back story. I went on a date with a Black man the first time as a young adult. He was a medical student and it was a blind date. He later admitted to me that the only reason he went out with (and bedded) me was that I was White. An interesting experience, as I'm sure you can imagine.
Since that time, I have dated or had "romantic" relationships with a number of men of color: Asian, Latino, and Black (African, Caribbean, and African-American). I have also been "involved" with White men, including the father of my now deceased son.

I never chose a date or a mate on the basis of his skin tone, his age, or his accent; whether or not he had good looks, a college degree, a job or even a car; the size of his bank account or his penis. That's just me. I sincerely believe that most of us -- however much we talk smack about "love" -- choose our mates rather particularistically, however, tending to opt for "our own kind" (those from a similar background, similar intelligence level, similar socio-economic status, and so forth). I, on the other hand, tended to go with the moment. And I think there's probably a bit of a wink in that sentence, if you're paying attention.

In any case, I have opted to pick and choose at will. Which has opened a lot of doors for me (and others like me). Keep in mind that I spent the past ten years of my life alone. I don't mean living alone. I mean alone alone. In a single bed. No dating. No relationships. And only a couple of forays into the embarrassing territory of one night stands. So it isn't that I must "have" someone to "feel like" someone. In fact, until recently, it was more like I never really wanted to be romantically involved at all (can we say "is-sues"?).

My point is that I, of all people, am proof positive that we can live happily and well by ourselves, if we're of a mind to. And a romantic relationship in and of itself ensures absolutely nothing in the way of contentment or satisfaction or well-being, other than the possibility of having access to two paychecks to address shared bills. I mean, color me jaded if you want to, but I'm talking about what I see all around me, as well as what I've experienced, not to mention all the research I've read since I started teaching courses in gender.

Additionally (and I mentioned this point yesterday, but I think it's crucial), Black people romantically involved with other Black people, White people romantically involved with other White people, and so on, appear in public and private every day everywhere in the world in relationships that scream "neurosis" on a range of levels, and nobody ever seems to have a problem with this (even when innocent children are being routinely put through a wringer in the process). Nobody says, "Gosh, maybe people should just avoid relationships entirely unless both parties are totally healthy individuals to start with," though this idea makes all kinds of logical sense.

But when a "Black" person (and remember, we're talking about skin tone here) gets with a "White" person (or at least one who passes for White, because how the hell do most of us really know?), we become convinced that the relationship HAS to be neurotic and has NO hope of being healthy in ANY way REGARDLESS of endless indications otherwise. And that's just dopey. As well as unfortunate. Since life is hard enough without trying to tell people they must love and/or have sex with only the person YOU would pick for them.

Nevertheless (as I pointed out already a few paragraphs ago), the vast majority of human beings choose our mates particularistically. We don't necessarily walk around with a checklist on a clipboard, checking off the characteristics a prospective "candidate" for a relationship might or not have, so we can make a decision. But we just go with the path of least resistance. We only allow into our "prospective mate pool" those who meet the gender, race, religion, educational level, socio-economic potential level, and attractiveness quotient we would find acceptable. This is why we don't see more "blending" than we do. Oh, it's there all right. Lots of it. More all the time. But not all that much, when push comes to shove. Because most of us just don't cross the line.

We have help to stay in our places, too. Others (in our group or a different one) do what social science researchers call "border patrol." In other words, they look at a Black woman with a White man on her arm and ask pointedly, "This is your boyfriend?" with just the hint of a pause before the telltale word. And by the hundredth or thousandth time this -- or a similar -- question is asked or statement is made, the "border" becomes as littered with painful debris as the Rio Grande. And the romance can become not worth it.

So why does anyone "cross the [fill in the blank] line?"

"You can't help who you love," we haste to chatter.

But I've already raised the idea that most of us choose pretty carefully and have plenty of help to make sure we do that.

So, why is anyone willing to take on the whole society's wrath and ridicule when there are literally millions of options that won't call down the Dogs of Hell? I think it's personal and political. And I think the personal IS political.

I'm sure there are at least a gazillion reasons a person might decide to be what sociologists call "deviant" (which only means, after all, different from the norm, different from the usual way things are done in that society). And some of them are unquestionably (or at least) neurotic, ill-advised, stupid, hilarious, weird, sad, outrageous and/or predictable. But I would argue that the same thing could be said of a relationship between two people who are NOT being recognizably deviant in their choice. So what's the point of singling out, in particular, Black people and White people "in love with" each other?

I already wrote herein that I wouldn't feel comfortable telling a woman she "shouldn't" be in a relationship with a man, or a gay or lesbian person "shouldn't" love someone with the same genitals, or a Muslim "shouldn't" marry a Jew. But neither could I begin to have a clue for absolutely certain about all the reasons that might be involved in their decision-making. That's why I use the term "complicated." There could be more than one. There could even be many. There is more to mating than "lying back and thinking of England" (what they used to tell women to do who were faced with the ignominious duty of submitting to their husbands' advances). There is more to mating than "chemistry" or arranging a marriage or making babies to carry on the family name(s).

Some of us choose -- bold-facedly and with no apology whatsoever -- the harder road. We choose, knowing the cost, to breech the social compunctions, to commit to a different, better world of possibility, to allow our lives and our bodies to become the battlefield on which the rest of the human race claims the right to fight some of its ugliest wars. We mate as a political act. An act of rebellion. Against any system, any ideology, any historical tradition, any individual that purports to have the final say in our only, most private existence.
And if that makes some people who choose to stay inside their prescribed borders uncomfortable in one way or another, then it is what it is.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

What''s Love Got To Do With It? - Part 1

On May 1st, I appeared as a guest on The Context of White Supremacy (C.O.W.S.) radio show. I signaled you that it was going to happen and I was quite excited because I thought we were going to explore the reality of how the socially-constructed political notice of "race" has been used in this country (and around the world) to oppress people of color. And we did. But instead of an open forum on ideas, it rapidly turned into a "let's-put-the-Changeseeker-on-a-spit-and-watch-her-psychological-skin-bubble" exhibition.

Now, I knew this in advance. I mean, I've been around for a few twenty-four hours and I know how to do my homework. So in preparing for the show, I listened to some archived broadcasts and read some of their statements and learned that the panel of questioners (who are quite specifically focused in their beliefs) are an intelligent and angry group of Black folks. And if you've read much of my blog, you know that I don't disagree with the reasonable nature of Black folks' anger. In fact, I raise the issue often.

But acknowledging it and having it directed at you for two solid hours live while being broadcast coast to coast and archived permanently are two entirely different things. And it's something like bootcamp, an experience not for the faint of heart. So why would any White person who is at all educated on the subject want to participate in such a thing?

Tim Wise -- who some people see as the godfather of White anti-racism just now -- has committed himself to appear on the show every month for a year, for example. Why in the world, after even one whopping helping of fixated whup-ass, would he agree to such an exercise? I can't speak for Wise, of course, but I can speak for me. And the reason for me was that I can't say I want to fight oppression if I refuse to look it in the face -- wherever it raises its ugly head -- even in my own life. And who better to point out what I need to examine than a focused group of intelligent and angry Black folks?

Anyway, the bottom line was that instead of talking about oppression in a more general sense or exploring the three hundred eighty posts I've published on this blog over the past four and one-half years, Gus T. Renegade et al decided to focus almost entirely on the fact that I have a bi-racial daughter and wouldn't I say that was a mistake and wouldn't I counsel Black people around the world not to do that or even get in "romantic" relationships at all with White people?

As a mother, this put me in a tricky position at best. I remember when my own mother suggested giving my as yet unborn child to a Black couple (like a litter of kittens?). I was dumbstruck. I was carrying a human being, after all, a manifestation of the expression of a bond, however ephemeral or ill-advised, between a man and a woman in love or in lust or in a historical moment, that I would no more disavow than I would cut out my own heart and eat it for breakfast. Having had an offspring murdered at the age of twenty-two has given me an extremely clear grasp on the value I give to a life I have carried, birthed and nursed. And believe me, it's non-negotiable.

So despite the complicated nature of "race relations" in the world today or at any other time, there's no way I could ever tell people not to reproduce any more children like my daughter. Which does NOT mean that I don't see Mr. Renegade's point: that under an international context of White Supremacy where the most powerful nation in the world is the poster child for that White Supremacist system, "romantic" relationships between a person designated as "Black" and a person designated as "White" are difficult at best. So are ALL "romantic" relationships, of course. In fact, the last statistic I saw on average length of marriage world-wide was four years. Hardly an advertisement for strength of commitment.

But Gus T. Renegade believes that no Black person can thrive in a "romantic" relationship with any White person under an umbrella of White Supremacy and that, therefore, Black people should be warned not to get into relationships with, marry or make children with White people under any circumstances. And I was asked repeatedly to co-sign this perspective.

My response? In a perfect world, all "romantic" relationships would be based on mutual respect and affection and a commitment to personal growth in all areas of one's personhood. But in this far from perfect world, most of us are hard put to get through Thursday. So I wouldn't begin to tell people who they "should" or "should not" get with. One of the reasons it was easy for me to stay alone for ten years until recently was that the vast majority of "romantic" relationships I see (regardless of the race or gender of the partners involved) look at least somewhat neurotic from where I sit and I didn't want to sign up for another tour of that kind of duty.

It's true without question that oppression in any form screws up relationships all day long and twice on Sunday (when oppression with a capital O is pushed from pulpits in the name of God). And for a relationship to last more than four years, all kinds of difficulties must be resolved between the participating parties even if oppression of one kind or another is not involved. Adding the element of "race" or "gender" to the mix is guaranteed to create a much deeper level of angst on both sides.

This is the reason that, increasingly, women around the world have come to the conclusion that forming relationships with men is a bad idea for women. While the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" has been around for no more than five hundred years or so, men established themselves in a position of dominance over women as much as seven thousand years ago, leaving many convinced that men are supposed to be in that position, that it's "natural." Consequently, women are stuck with trying to survive under a patriarchal system in romantic relationships with their oppressors. Who, by and large, are frankly, beyond clueless about the situation. As a matter of fact, this arrangement has been in place for so long, the vast majority of women don't get it either. They bow and shuffle and go along to get along and make excuses for striving for new levels of "submission" to their "mates" according to "God's" law and so forth ad nauseum. I see them come into my gender courses semester after semester, only to leave with their personal lives in disarray because of their new level of consciousness.

But do I tell them they shouldn't make relationships with men (as some other women do)? No. I tell them that THEY are responsible for the quality of their lives, whether in or outside of relationships. I tell them that no enterprise worth bothering with -- "romantic" or otherwise -- is going to be easy. And that crossing the "gender" line to mate with a man will require constant vigilance related not only to his socialization as "king" over her and his perception of the meaning of "manhood," but related to HER socialization as "queen" under him and her perception of the meaning of her role as a "woman." When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

And I apply the same principles to bi-racial relationships.

I laughed when Gus asked me if my daughter has sex with White men. Apparently, the point he was going for was that being raised by a White woman would leave her without Black reference points (reminding me of a middle class Black woman who once told me flatly that her children were never going to have a "boom box," that if they wanted to listen to music, they could listen to it in the living room on the "stereo"). But if the reference points my daughter was raised with at home included exposure to African and African-American culture of all types and all manner of people from all over the world, including a number of African nations, then the White reference points with which we are ALL embedded were delivered to her particularly in school in bite-sized chunks from the time she was in kindergarten until she graduated from college. In my role as a college teacher, I see Black young people everyday who've been raised by loving Black caregivers and who are as deeply embedded with White Supremacy as my daughter will ever be on her worst day.

After all -- and Gus seemed fascinated by this -- she had barely learned to write when she handed me a paragraph that read:

“I think Whites do the things they do to Black because Whites want to be better than Blacks and most Whites want to be better than all colored people. Whites think they are the king and queen of the world. I think Whites and Black should have the same rights and should be abel to do the same things. Whites treat other colored people like they are animals. I think it should be stop right now. Blacks should be respected just as Whites are and the same for all the other colored people.”

Where does he think she got that understanding? From an NWA song?

She is who she is. Just as I am. And while I may still be working on my Self on a daily basis in a lot of areas, I think I'm doing a helluva job overall being a Person I feel good about being. And if my daughter is any indication of who I am, then I am proud of myself indeed. Because she's the bomb.

Renegade asked me to see if my daughter would come on a subsequent radio show with me and I said I would ask her. Actually, I thought she would say no hands down because she's one of the most private people I've ever met. But I knew that, regardless of what she said, I would never subject her to the grilling of his troops. She may be twenty-eight, but I'm still her mother. Allowing myself to be attacked is one thing. Inviting her to be attacked -- because I'm her mother -- is something I couldn't live with.

Besides, I've only posted nine segments of my book, Reduced to Equality: My Odyssey to Renounce Racial Privilege -- and Find Myself. That consitutes less than half of it. And I finished it several years ago, so there's been some new developments in my life since then. Because those few segments seemed to be the only information he had taken in, Gus may not have had all the information he probably needed to do the job he seemed to want to do.

For example, neither he (nor any of the rest of the team) ever asked me whether or not I am right now in a bi-racial relationship. And the answer is yes. I stayed alone for ten years, working on my self as an individual. And then, when I finally agreed to date someone, he happened to be African-American. I'm thinking Gus et al would have had a field day with that. Especially since we'd only been dating four months at the time of the broadcast and so were still in a very formative stage.

Regardless, and I kid you not, Gus T. Renegade and Justice and the others really took me places in my consciousness I've never been before. I was so rocked by the experience that it took me a week to process it all enough to do anything else. I went deep and stayed long. And I entered a whole series of dialogues with Boxer that forced us both to look at everything we were doing in an even more rigorous way. So I'm grateful. I can't have it both ways. I can't grow beyond where I already am without breaking new ground. And I can't do that alone.

From the looks of his archives, Gus has stayed busy interviewing others on The Context of White Supremacy. I highly recommend that you check out what he and his compatriots are up to. I guarantee you'll learn much. But keep in mind, it can be dangerous way out there on the ends of the branches where the fruit is.

Tomorrow, I'm going to write another post on the topic of bi-racial relationships. I do think they have to do with more than just "love" or even "lust." I believe, in fact, that under White Supremacy, they are necessarily a political statement. So give all this some thought and join me tomorrow, if you will, for the second part of "What's Love Got To Do With It?"

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A-hem. [*clears throat quietly*]

I know I've been among the missing for some time now.

Which of the following do you think is the reason?
  • During the last three weeks of the spring semester, students beat a path to my door at an unprecedented rate (regardless of their major or their status or their nationality or whether they were actually my students or connected in any way to anything I have done or even not done on this campus). This constituted a new personal best -- or worst, depending on how you look at it -- giving me GREAT pause when I consider the implications for the future.

  • Just about the time I thought I had somehow recovered from this onslaught (which took a few days, to be honest with you), the Powers-That-Be canceled one of the courses I expected to pay my rent by teaching in July, necessitating my commitment to FINALLY teach my first internet course from scratch on four days notice. This requires, of course, daily attention including, but not restricted to filming lecture segments, drafting notes for posting onto the website, and fielding interminable requests for communication from students who, by and large (apparently), have never seen a computer before.

  • My laptop (the one I was supposed to be retiring anyway) gave up the ghost without notice so that I lost stuff I will probably never remember ever existed (including hundreds of photos I had saved over time for use on this blog), leaving me staring endlessly at the neighbor's pregnant cat that's been trying to finagle her way into my house for the past two weeks with remarkable focus. Do I just give up and let her in, I ask myself -- knowing damned well she's trying to have her babies in my closet or on my side of the bed or somewhere I can't even imagine? Do I just continue to encourage her to adopt the "special place" I created for her on the front porch -- knowing damned well that she's not going to do it regardless of how many times I fluff the towel and leave chicken breast sacrifices beside it (which she, of course, eats, further ensuring that she will be ever more convinced that I am unquestionably the godmother of her incipient offspring)? Do I throw the computer at the cat, thus resolving two issues, while releasing what seems to be a seriously unhealthy or at least unproductive level of frustration? This staring and thinking process is on-going.

  • A couple of grown men from elsewhere butted their noses into my life (via a student I sometimes mentor), attempting to assassinate my character by emailing professionals in my workplace with the "information" that I am a freaked-out radical who is dangerous to the students on this campus because I lead them astray and cause them to self-destruct their otherwise halcyon lives by veering violently to the left. This drama entailed multiple interviews with superiors answering questions about a situation I had no control over and didn't know about until after the fact.

  • A new organization with a national base has popped up and established itself locally (thanks to another of my students), requiring some attention, especially when its representatives are sitting in my living room.

  • Plants have to be re-potted in the spring. And they don't care how much work it is or how much it costs. And they keep me supplied with oxygen...

  • Boxer keeps talking me into going places to do fun stuff I used to never do because I was too busy blogging (or whatever).

  • All of the above.

If you answered: "all of the above," then you're right. But I am back. With much to write about. And a new home espresso machine to help me write it. TTFN (ta-ta for now). But not for long.